When budget talks get tough, officials get creative.
If Lawrence city officials need to raise more money but not through increased taxes, they start looking at fees, such as franchise fees. If Kansas University officials don't want to consider raising overall tuition even higher, they look at raising it school by school.
The only problem is the money still comes out of the same pockets - and no one should be fooled.
City officials, working on next year's budget, are considering increases in franchise fees charged to companies that supply electrical service, telephone service and cable service to local customers. These fees are routinely passed along to the customers these companies serve. They may not be taxes, but they might as well be, and regressive taxes at that.
Electrical and telephone service are pretty basic for everyone, including senior citizens on fixed incomes and other low-income residents. Cable television or computer service are more optional but important for many residents. Franchise fees are not a tax, but they raise the cost of living for the same people.
Then comes the news that the new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at KU plans to renew the call for "differential" tuition for students enrolled in the college. A plan to tack $30 per credit hour onto tuition for classes in the college was turned down two years ago but apparently soon will be back. Those funds are "crucial to the future of the college," according to the dean.
Differential tuition has become routine in most of KU's professional schools. The amounts range from $12.50 per hour in the journalism school to $120 per hour in the School of Pharmacy.
A proposal to raise those rates by 4 percent is scheduled to be presented to the Kansas Board of Regents this week. That increase will be on top of KU's five-year plan to double tuition for Kansas students attending the university.
Adding a differential tuition in the college seems particularly burdensome because almost every KU student takes LAS classes, especially during their freshman and sophomore years. Raising LAS tuition by $30 per credit hour is pretty hard to differentiate from an overall tuition increase, but it's apparently easier for KU officials to justify. Is anyone concerned that, according to the College Board, the average student receiving a bachelor's degree from a public university in 2004 was $10,600 in debt?
Taxes or franchise fees both come out of the pockets of Lawrence residents who may or may not be able to afford them. Base tuition or differential tuition both are paid by students and their families who are finding higher education more and more difficult to afford.
Taxes, fees, basic tuition or differential. It doesn't matter much what officials call it, the money it takes to pay the bills is all the same.